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Colorado Trout July 2012
Gerhard Schroeder  

The fires in June of 2012 were a concern. We had made reservations in and near Pagosa Springs two months prior. “Let’s just go anyway. The worst that can happen is that we’ll turn around and come back, or go somewhere else.” Those were Mary’s deciding words, and so we left early that Friday afternoon. With the 4th of July falling on a Wednesday, and me taking vacation Monday and Tuesday, we spent 5 days in Colorado. Yes, there were fires. Not where we were staying, but we drove by one near Mancos on our second day.

After stopping at Walmart in Cortez to get a 5-day fishing license we lucked out about an hour later with a neat camp spot right off the Dolores River. It was about 10 p.m. then, time to rearrange things in the rear of my 4Runner and go to sleep.

The birds outside chirping like crazy woke me up very early. As it turned out, I was about to employ a very deadly weapon, in the form of a 1/8 oz. Rooster Tail spinner bait, with golden blade, launched by a Garcia Bronco ultra-light-action rod. My first cast happened before 5 a.m.

Now, I’m not much of a fisherman, and clearly not for trout. Even so, with about cast #5 I had “fish on”. I horsed this one onto the bank, whacked it over the head, took out the hook, unfolded my pocket knife and cleaned the trout in the fast-flowing waters. Then I slipped this 13 inch brown into a plastic bag and shoved the bag into the cargo pocket of my shorts. What a start, not even a stone-throw from the vehicle.

It got better. A few casts later, another bite. However, in the process of trying to fling this one onto the bank, the fish broke off. Time to connect the dots: these fish are bigger than those from the West Fork of the Black River in Arizona. I needed to play them, then scoop them up with a net, which I did have along.

So here is part two of the deadly weapon – walk upstream and in the river. Sure enough, not twenty yards further, and I netted a rainbow, maybe 11 inches. Huge in comparison to what I used to catch in the White Mountains, and certainly a ‘portion’ fish, it soon joined that brown in the plastic bag.

Maybe I should mention here that before sun-up, the mountain streams are simply biting cold. Yes, I would slosh and stumble upstream, wearing only tennis shoes and ‘feeling’ my way along, over, onto countless slippery rocks and boulders. I stumbled often and luckily never went “in”. It did not take long before my feet felt numb, and I had to exit the water for awhile.

Not every section of river contained fish, well, at least not those stupid enough to bite into something shimmering golden. That’s why I constantly kept stumbling upstream, trying to learn the river. That is, to predict what features amongst the boulders and water depths would yield me the next hookup. I’m still learning. Often times some ‘pool’ looked so promising to me, but nothing was impressed with a rooster tail dragging through.

Fish number three that morning hit hard, to me in a totally unexpected location. This one, another brown, I guessed at 15 inches. Of course he ended up in that plastic bag, which by now noticeably pulled down on my shorts. This way of transport by the way, kept the fish nicely cool, periodically getting splashed by the river’s water.

Then came some 100 to 200 yards of Dolores where nothing happened, other than my feet protesting. After that, deeper waters held more promise. And bingo, right after the spinner bait disappeared in the gurgling river, the water broiled with flashes of white fury. This rainbow raced downstream, turned, went airborne, cut left, struggled upstream again, until finally tiring enough for me to slowly reel him closer and seal his fate with the net. He wasn’t the biggest, maybe a foot, but ended the morning with a great fight.

That’s right, the daily limit is four trout of any species. My plastic bag contained that many now. The sun was not yet ready to ascend over the mountains.

Colorado has another deal for meat hunters like me. In addition to the four trout there is a second daily limit of ten(!) brook trout, but those must be smaller than eight inches. So I kept on fishing for a while. But three good-fighting trout later, none were below ten inches and all were rainbow. I had a great morning! Time to exit the river and head back to the Toyota where Mary was still sleeping. We had trout for both breakfast and dinner that day.

I got my four-trout limit on all five days, all on the same gold-bladed 1/8 oz. Rooster Tail. After the second day the plastic coating got completely beaten off by the rocks. By the fourth day the rooster tail had lost most of its strands.

We also visited the East Fork of the San Juan River outside Pagosa Springs. After catching my limit there early one afternoon I had time to test something new. Still not giving up on small brookies, I tied on a black Blue Fox spinner of 1/16 oz. weight. That reduced casting range noticeably.

I cast, and bam! Something big was pulling back. I played this beast to near exhaustion, eventually dragging him into shallow waters, where it lay still, gasping. Now I had a measuring tape along. This rainbow went an honest 15 inches. With a smile I removed the itty-bitty black spinner from its jaw and placed the rainbow back into flowing waters.

It took him a few seconds. When enough fresh water had flowed through its gills, this fat boy chose life again and was gone with a few powerful tail strokes, never to be seen again – because I was back the next morning, trying for him. He must have grown smarter. Maybe all did because it took me the longest that day to get four, and after the second I wasn’t quite as choosy.

Way more memorable than the fishing that day was another encounter. Suddenly, right as I was reeling in, something rather large and brown burst from cover on the steep mountain side of the river, and splashed into fairly deep water, not 15 yards in front of me. For not quite a second I had the understandable “oh sh*t” reaction, until I recognized her for the mule deer doe she was.

Tough to say who was more scared at first. Now she stood not thirty steps away, studying me. I kept fishing despite her having disturbed the waters. She then moved upstream for several yards, splashed across the river a second time and disappeared in the thick foliage.

In between fishing adventures we also took a few hikes and explored other roads with potential water access, and future camping options. Plus on our third day Mary insisted that we not again have trout for dinner. So we dined in Pagosa Springs, with view of the river and resort.

My best time was Tuesday, back on the Dolores. I released everything under 13 inches. Even so, it did not take two hours to come back with a limit of fish, all between fourteen and fifteen inches.

Never during all my fishing in those five days did I run into another angler. And the few we did see while driving along the rivers either fished from the bank, or were sissies wearing waders – or were they just smarter?

4th of July was our last day. In fact the plan was for me to get up early again to try yet a new stretch of water, be back by no later than 8 a.m., pack up and drive home. I left the SUV at 4:30 that morning, walked to a new spot and sent out the proven Rooster Tail.

Cast number three was what I had come there for. A fine-fighting 13 inch rainbow soon ended up in my plastic bag. A few yards upstream came a rather long section of deep but fairly fast water. While reeling in I could see the eddies a fish makes when going after, but missing the lure.

Excited, but wanting to give this one some time, I cast to the other side of the river. Again some obviously nice trout followed the lure but did not strike. Darn! Cast number three went right up the middle of the Dolores.

After a few turns on the handle the desired effect of obvious resistance. It did not take long before I could see this fish, obviously big! My pulse raced. “Don’t do anything stupid now, Gerhard”, I told myself as I gently kept tension as he raced downstream. I let him squeal line past the drag clutch as he labored back upstream.

This went on for uncomfortably long (for a meat hunter) until this beauty finally let me net him. It was a rainbow, measuring 17.5 inches. What a nice 4th of July gift! Biggest trout I had ever caught. Too big for either the plastic bag or the cargo pocket, I secured big boy with a nylon twine.

Then, my very next cast into the same section of river hooked another big trout. But after about ten seconds he broke off. I kept casting, but no more fools from that fine stretch of water. No problem, within another 200 yards the final two trout, another rainbow (13”) and a brown (15”), did me the favor. I was back at the Toy by 7 a.m.

Best short vacation ever! God willing we shall return in the coming years. That is certainly my intention.

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